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Simultaneously treat many mixed-waste streams

By Mary Page Bailey |

A team of researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI; Worcester, Mass.; www.wpi.edu) are investigating hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) to simultaneously treat a variety of municipal waste streams and create biofuels. “HTL is an emerging technology for the conversion of various types of aqueous streams containing organic components, including biomass, food, sewage sludge and many others,” explains WPI chemical engineering professor Michael Timko. In HTL, the feedstream is heated while system pressure is maintained at a level sufficient to maintain water in its liquid state. At these conditions, depolymerization, dehydration and hydrolysis reactions occur, yielding an energy-dense oil that can be upgraded as diesel blendstock, along with a carbon-rich solid char, a CO2-rich gas and an aqueous phase. A major benefit of HTL is speed — its reactions take just minutes, whereas conversion via anaerobic digestion, the incumbent technology, can require multiple days. Hydrothermal liquefaction also avoids other challenging aspects of anaerobic digestion, including incomplete digestion of lignin and crystalline cellulose, microbial susceptibility to toxins and the production of byproducts that necessitate additional purification.…
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